A team of scientists will for the first time search the wreck of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s doomed ship that was crushed in ice more than 100 years ago.
Scientists on board the SA Agulhas II will leave for the Weddell Sea in Antarctica on New Year’s day and head towards the Larsen C ice shelf.
The team want to find and search Shackleton’s lost Endurance vessel, which sank in 1915, with robotic submarines and drones.
As part of one of the most ambitious polar expeditions in recent years, the scientists will also try and discover why a trillion tonne iceberg the size of Northumberland broke off the ice shelf and floated 28 miles (45km) last year.
The team of experts, technicians and researchers are travelling to the region to study what pressures the shelf is under and what life survives in the extreme conditions.
The Endurance leaning to one side during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914 to 17, led by Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton and his men survived for ten months stuck in an ice pack by camping on the frozen ice, before moving to an ice floe in the hope of drifting to safety
The team on board the SA Agulhas II vessel want to find and search Shackleton’s lost Endurance vessel, which sank in 1915, with robotic submarines and drones
On the way home the SA Agulhas II will head for the area where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship became trapped in ice and crushed until it sank.
After ten months stuck in the ice pack, Shackleton and his men survived by camping on the frozen ice, before moving to an ice floe in the hope of drifting to safety.
Eventually the crew were able to set off in life boats to Elephant Island, but as this was too hostile the explorers made the treacherous journey to the island of South Georgia in an open boat.
This latest expedition hopes to visit where the famous ship went down and, for the first time, try to hunt for the wreckage with autonomous robot submarines.
Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and chief scientist on the Weddell Sea expedition, told the Guardian: ‘Antarctica is a place of extremes. You never know what the conditions will be like.
‘But if we are that close to one of the most iconic vessels in polar exploration, we have got to go and look for it.’
The explorers hauling their gear in the Hjort Metre net during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
The crew even played football on an ice floe whilst waiting for the ice to break up around the Endurance in 1915
On the home leg of the 45-day expedition, the team will decide whether to go hunting for Shackleton’s lost Endurance ship.
John Shears, the expedition’s voyage leader, told the Guardian: ‘We’d love to get to the wreck site, but it’ll be a challenge even in a light ice year.
‘No one has ever got close. If it was easy to do someone would have done it a long time ago.’
Yesterday it was announced a Christmas Day menu from one of Shackleton’s earlier expeditions to the South Pole will go up for auction.
The tongue-in-cheek list of seal cutlets and turtle soup revealed what men on board the Nimrod in 1908 feared they would have to eat during their journey.
It was discovered 110 years after their mission in which they endured bone-chilling conditions and were starved of food to become the first men to reach the South Pole.
To keep up their spirits the team made a menu of dubious-sounding fare they were meant to have indulged in for a celebratory meal.
Antarctic explorers (left) Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott (centre) and Edward Wilson (right) at the start of a sledging trip during the earlier Discovery Expedition, circa 1903
Ernest Shackleton’s Ship Endurance trapped in ice during their quest to get to the South Pole
A celebratory dinner and presentation held for William Roberts in the town of Feltham (left). The mock menu of penguin patties and seal cutlets made by the the men of the British Antarctic Expedition
For starters they were to tuck into turtle soup followed by an entree of penguin patties and seal cutlets.
The main meal was to be a joint of roast reindeer, black currant jelly, potatoes and green peas and then plum pudding and mince pies for afters.
Copious amounts of whisky, Champagne and cigars were also on the menu with sledges rather than carriages at 12.30am.
While the menu appears to be tongue-in-cheek, it carried an element of truth as it was that sort of fresh meat the men would have eaten later on in the expedition, which lasted from 1907 to 1909.
The menu forms part of a never-before-seen archive of documents and photos kept by William Charles Roberts, who was the cook and assistant zoologist on the Nimrod Expedition.
The archive includes a rare and original contract signed by Shackleton for Roberts’ services on the expedition to the ‘Antarctic Zone’.
There is also a menu card signed by Shackleton and other team members for a celebratory lunch held in his honour for being knighted by King George V in 1909.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South Pole expedition team, (left to right) Frank Wild, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Boyd-Adams
Ship Endurance (left) frozen in ice in the Weddell Sea at the beginning of the long winter and Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (right)
Signatures of the expedition party on a menu from 1909 celebrating the journey the men took
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions to cross the ice of Antarctica
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton led three British expeditions to the Antarctic.
Born in County Kildare, Ireland, his first experience of the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition from 1901 to 1904.
He had to leave the voyage early for health reasons after the group set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S.
During the second expedition on board the Nimrod, between 1907 to 1909, he and three companions established a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S – 97 geographical miles from the South Pole.
Shackleton returned in 1914 on board the Endurance and became trapped in the ice trying to travel from sea to sea via the the South Pole.
After being rescued during the ill-fated trip, he later went back again in 1921 but died of a heart attack while his ship was moored in South Georgia.
And there is also a menu card for another dinner held in honour of Roberts by dignitaries in his home town of Feltham, west London.
The archive has been held by the Roberts family ever since and is now coming up for sale with auctioneers Golding Young and Mawar of Lincolnshore for a total estimate of £15,000.
Alastair McPhie-Meiklejon, of the auction house, said: ‘William Roberts was the cook on the expedition and this is a collection of all his ephemera relating to that voyage. It has never been seen before.
‘It was as if he got back from the expedition, did a few dinners and talks and then put hot all in a suitcase and left it for 100 years.
‘I don’t know why the menu was produced. It appears to be a bit of fun but the irony is that this was the kind of food they would have been eating when things went wrong for them.
‘They were certainly on Antartica at the time of this meal and I would have thought those things would have been fresh.
‘But an entire course dedicated to coffee and cigars is something that is quiet British.
Members of the Antarctic expedition, including the cook William Roberts (far left) before they set off on their mission to the South Pole
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s men made the mock Christmas Day menu with turtle soup and penguin patties, not knowing thy would have to eat similar meat later on in their voyage
Anonymous poems (left) which were written on board the ship, Endurance, as they travelle on their expedition to the South Pole
‘I believe it is the most important collection of ephemera belonging to a team member of this expedition to have ever been found.
‘Nothing ever like it has been sold before.’
The Nimrod Expedition was regarded as a glorious failure as the party did not reach their objective but did travel farther south than anyone else had achieved.
The sailors on board Shackleton’s ship wot poems (above) to pass the time
On their return across the frozen continent the endured snow blindness, sunburn and frostbite and almost ran out of food.
They also carried out a great number of important experiments and up their return to Britain they were hailed as heroes.
A black and white photo in the archive was taken of five of the men, including Scott, after their safely arrived back in New Zealand.
And two poems on White Star Line headed notepaper written by an anonymous expedition members are also in the collection.
The poems relate to the voyage and certain members of the party and were written while on board the SS Runic, the liner that took them south to New Zealand from where they switched to the Nimrod.
Three years after the Nimrod Expedition, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole only to find they had been beaten to it by Norwegian explorer Roald Amjundsen.
On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.
Shackleton returned to the Antarctic in 1914 to attempt to cross from sea to sea via the pole.
But disaster struck the expedition when his ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice and was slowly crushed before the landing crews could land.
The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrated and made their way to the island of South Georgia.
The Roberts archive is being sold on January 3.